Today is Blog Action Day 2008 !!! The theme this year is Poverty.
Why should we care about the poor?
On a global scale, extreme poverty is living on less than one dollar a day. One billion people live in extreme poverty. Half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day; 80% of the world lives on less than $10 a day. Of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty.
In Canada 10% of the population are living below the poverty line. In larger cities this means less than a gross annual income of about $38 K for a family of four or less than about $20 K for a single person. There are people in Ottawa and other Canadian cities living well below that.
A lot of us maybe came from families who struggled to meet ends meet. We worked our way through University/College. Maybe we started work at the bottom of the ladder and have worked our way up to a reasonably comfortable middle-class life. We fork over about a third of our income in taxes. So why should we care about the poor?
We expect our governments to take care of the disadvantaged with our tax dollar, but they don’t do enough with it. Every day we are asked for more of our money for food banks, for shelters, for innumerable not-for-profit agencies, centers and churches to help feed, clothe and shelter the poor. We give, we donate and the poor are still poor.
We want to do the right thing; of course we do. We volunteer, we collect canned goods, winter coats for kids, toys at Christmas. We give to the United Way, we give to panhandlers, we give to churches and activist groups. We give to world relief funds, the Red Cross; we give when there are disasters or famines or ward, but it’s never enough.
In our own neighbourhoods we are overwhelmed by the increasing presence of drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless. People don’t like to see this. Some are pretty vocal about not wanting these people in their neighbourhoods. But no one knows where to shuffle them off to.
Governments throw a bit of money around as a band-aid style solution to poverty, but mainly try to ignore the problem because poor people don’t vote and don’t pay taxes. And, afterall a 10% poverty rate isn’t too bad compared to much of the rest of the world. Also, government doesn’t know what to do without increasing taxes. Increasing taxes isn’t very popular and doesn’t get anyone re-elected. Really, why, should we care about the poor and give up even more of our hard-earned incomes?
Sweden has among the lowest poverty rates in the world at about 5%. Sweden is a welfare state. Welfare is provided for the population as a whole, in the same way as public services like roads or schools are provided. It’s welfare for everyone, not just the poor. For instance, healthcare, education and childcare are provided free to all; every family with children receives a monthly check from the government and senior citizens, the sick/disabled and the unemployed all receive a healthy living wage from the state.
Of course, the average Swede pays a 50-60% income tax and forks over a 24% sales tax for everything he buys.
Why should we care about the poor? Poverty has been a part of most societies and cultures since the beginning of time. So why and how do we keep caring? Do we want to give up half (or more) of everything we work for in order to support those who can’t support themselves? And is all this giving ever going to eradicate poverty?
Why should we care about the poor? Maybe because it’s the right thing to do. Maybe because it diminishes us as human beings to leave so many of our fellow human beings with nothing while we accumulate more and more. Maybe because we, the 20% of the world not living in poverty are using 80% of the earth’s resources, exacerbating global poverty. Maybe because no matter how smug and secure we feel right now; one quirky twist of fate could thrust us into poverty, too.